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Types of Music to Dance to

Ishani Chatterjee Shukla
Dancing is the most primitive form of expression. The evolution of rhythmic and melodious accompaniments in the form of various types of music to dance to is attributed to man's innate desire to express himself through his limbs.
Dancing: the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music.
That was George Bernard Shaw's take on dancing to a tune! A dance music is a piece of music which has been specifically composed to accompany a dance form. The types of dance music are as many as there are dance forms in this world, each type of music specifically molded to synchronize the movement of the limbs with the intended human expressions.
A dance music can either be an entire musical piece or a part of a larger musical arrangement. Based on performance, there can be broadly two types of music to dance to - live dance music and recorded dance music.
Other classifications of dance music can be based origins and on the periods in which they evolved. On the basis of origin, dance music can be regarded as being of two major types - folk or traditional type and popular type of music to dance to.

Prevalent Era Music Types and Dance Forms

On the basis of time periods, different types of music and their corresponding dance forms that were prevalent in each era, are as follows:

The Renaissance Period

The dances and accompanying musical styles of the Renaissance period evolved in 15th century Italy and were popular through early 1600s.
The dance-worthy musical pieces for this era were composed to be played on musical instruments such as lute, viol, pipe, tabor and sackbut. The dance forms that accompanied were mainly traditional/folk in nature and were performed in Western and European country-style.

The Baroque Period

This period extended from 1600 till 1750. The major dance music and dance styles were Noble Court dances such as French Courante, Minuet, Sarabande and Gigue. Collection of a set of dances, known as Dance Suites were popular in this period.

The Classical Period

In Classical era (1750-1820) the minuet was incorporated as a third movement in four-movement non vocal compositions like String Quartets, Symphonies and Sonatas. The Waltz emerged in the latter part of the classical era as the minuet morphed into Scherzo.

The Romantic Music Period

This era spanned across 1815 till 1910 and witnessed the emergence of nationalistic dance forms such as the Barcarolle, the Mazurka and the Polonaise. The Ballet reached the zenith of its evolution in this period. This is the period when playing dance music as part of the Opera began.

Popular Dance Music

This is the period starting from the latter part of the 19th century and prevails till date.
The various genres that came into being in this period are Western Ballroom Dances and Social Dance forms and the music to accompany them also underwent numerous modifications and metamorphoses to correspond to the changes of their accompanying dance forms, over all these years.

Types of Music to Dance to

Let us take a look at some of the various contemporary dance forms accompanied by their respective types of music to dance to.


Medieval French dance songs were called ballares from which Ballad and Ballet are derived. This dance music form can be called the nightclub version of the traditional ballroom dancing. The ballad is danced to slow, soothing Western music in a 4/4 time meter.
His dance is simple to learn and is ideal for weddings and slow dancing at nightclubs. It is an easy way to learn the basics of "lead" and "follow" in a closed dance position and can be considered an initiation towards learning more advanced ballroom dance forms. Examples of ballad music: Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra, American Pie by Don McLean.


Created by Harry Fox on the Vaudeville Stage, FoxTrot dance originated in 1912 in the United States.
It is characterized by its distinct "American Smooth" dance feel and is performed counter-clockwise around the ballroom dance floor in either a slow-quick-quick or a slow-slow-quick-quick fashion. FoxTrot was later standardized by Arthur Murray and his version incorporated more of Tango positions into this dance from.
It its most primitive form, FoxTrot was usually danced to ragtime. The time meter is 4/4. A good example of FoxTrot music is Michael Buble's Come Fly With Me.


A popular dance form of the 1930s, Rumba dance originated from Afro-Cuban folk beats and the Rumba dance steps are reminiscent of the Waltz. The Rumba dance music is characterized by its percussive rhythms and the traditional Afro-Cuban Rumba music is based on the clave.
This is a slow, sensuous Latin dance, danced to a Latin rhythm in a 4/4 time meter, the basic step being quick-quick-slow. Straight to Number One by Touch and Go is a good example of Rumba music.


Very closely related to Mambo, some forms of Salsa share exactly the same footwork as those of Mambo but moved to on a different rhythm. Salsa is a syncretic dance form and besides Mambo, this music and dance form derives strong influences from Guaguanco and Afro-Cuban music.
The inception of this dance form is attributed to Puerto Ricans in New York City in the late 1940s as they modified the existing Mambo steps' timing so that the Salsa dance steps occur starting at the initial beat of each of the four counts and added other styles to the Mambo as well.
The Salsa, as it exists today, is classified under two major styles - the Latin American Salsa and the North American Salsa - and is danced in a 4/4 time meter. Bailando by Frankie Ruiz, Nelly and Kelly Rowland's Dilemma and No Me Acostumbro by Rey Ruiz are prominent examples of Salsa dancing music and some of the best Salsa songs.


The national dance of Brazil and symbolic of the Brazilian Carnival, Samba is one heck of a rhythmic extravaganza! Samba dance steps incorporate the jumps of African dance and tempers it with sensuous ballroom dance movements to come up with its characteristic rhythmic bouncy steps combined with Latin style body movements.
Samba is a dance for the experienced and is danced to a 2/4 tempo. Read more to know about the history of Samba music. Madonna's La Isla Bonita and Enrique Iglesias' Bailamos are some of the most popular Samba dance songs!


Tango exists in four major forms today - the American/International Tango, the Argentine Tango, the Uruguayan Tango and the Finnish Tango. Ever mooned over the sensuous numbers in The Scent of a Woman and True Lies?
Well, that's American Tango at its best! It is one of the most intense, passionate and intimate ballroom and social dances and it is danced to a strict tempo, to a phrasing of eight counts.
The performance moves counter-clockwise around the dance floor or ballroom and is easier to dance than its close cousins, the Argentine and Uruguayan Tango, which is danced to music that slows down and speeds up quite often during the dance.
However, as far as authenticity is concerned, the Argentine and Uruguayans come the closest! La Cumparsita by Julio Iglesias is a good example of the best type of music to accompany American Tango dance.


Tracing its origins to a German peasant dance, Waltz dance steps are symbolic of elegance and lightness of movement as couples turn around the ballroom.
Waltz comes in many forms, some of them being Hesitation Waltz, Country Western Waltz, International Standard Waltz, American Style Waltz and Cross Step Waltz among others.
Waltz music is usually composed in triple meter but sometimes, it may take the form of 3/8 or 3/2 beats. Waltz is a very smooth dance and Waltz steps are performed in a 3/4 time meter. Take It To the Limit by the Eagles and Tennessee Waltz are good Waltz songs.

Bossa Nova

The bossa nova style of dancing and music trace their origins to the late 1950's Brazil. This creation of this genre is attributed to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Joao Gilberto.
This dance form derives most of its nuances from Samba, the rhythm being slower and more relaxed than Samba. However, the musical harmonic structure of Bossa Nova songs is very similar to that of Jazz. Also, the Bossa Nova is danced to a 4/4 time meter.
Prominent examples of Bossa Nova music are Girl from Ipanema by Astrud Gilberto, Mas Que Nada by the Black Eyed Peas and Chega de Suadade by Antonio Carlos Jobim, which also happened to be the first Bossa Nova song!


Bolero is a slower and more dramatic variation of the sensuous Latin dances, Rumba. It is all about slow tempo Latin music.
It is danced to a quick-quick-slow timing and is a pretty advanced dance form, owing to the amount of body control and balance required for dancing at such a slow tempo. Spanish Bolero is danced in a 3/4 time meter, whereas Cuban Bolero is danced in a 2/4 time meter. An example for the best type of music for Bolero is No Me Platioques Mas by Luis Miguel.

Cha Cha Cha

Cha Cha Cha is the name of a Latin American and Cuban dance music and dance form. The form was born in the Palladium, New York, in 1950s, when the instructors danced triple mambo.
A very flirtatious dance and music form, this dance gets its name from its triple repetitive foot rhythm of cha-cha-cha. It can also be danced to slower, more American style music and can also be danced to authentic Cuban beats as well as Latin American pop or Latin American rock music.
Cha-cha-cha dance steps are performed in a 4/4 time meter. Examples of Cha Cha Cha music are Smoothy by Carlos Santana and Los Marcianos by Rosendo Ruiz.


This dance from traces its origins in Cuba, which became extremely popular in Havana, New York City and Mexico City!
Mambo is a predecessor of the Cha Cha Cha, though a bit difficult than the latter, and both dances share many common steps. The time meter for Mambo dance steps is 4/4. Mas Bajo by Tito Puente is a good example of Mambo music.
The power and beauty of dance, accompanied by appropriate and enchanting music, is such that can take you places and make you do things you never thought you would. This fact is acknowledged by Wyclef Jean when he confesses:

I never really knew that she could dance like this
She make a man want to speak Spanish...
Besides the various styles and types discussed, there are many dance music types like Polka, Quickstep, Milonga, Merengue, Hustle, etc. Besides these, Hip Hop and R&B songs are popular choices for street dance and Electronic/Trance music and techno songs are also popular dance music options that are mostly played at nightclubs and parties.
So, what are you waiting for? Get those dance music CDs out and kick off those shoes. Unleash your emotions but let your body do the speaking - after all, "hips don't lie"!